Toledo's latest Italian restaurant replaces the Hungry I.
With black and white checkered tablecloths and vintage photos of Sinatra, Dino, and Sophia, Mama LaScola's Italian Kitchen is the newest in the LaScola group operated by longtime partners Gus Nicolaidis and chef Moussa Salloukh (the latter is also a partner in the Burger Bar 419 restaurants).
Tucked into a plaza off Holland-Sylvania Road (just north of Sylvania Avenue), it replaces the Hungry I (a longtime Toledo name), which simply never picked up steam. The owners said arriverderci, made cosmetic and menu changes, and reopened four months ago. Large black and red chairs are comfortable, Tiffany glass lamp shades add charm, and noise levels, even with a crowd, aren't dangerous.
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Lunch and dinner menus are large and if you're a first-timer, it wouldn't hurt to check them online or take your time with a drink (suggestions: crisp Peroni beer or the not-too-sweet sangria).
Lunch offers nine appetizers, eight salads, including a salmon caesar and Tuscany pear ($17.99 and $10.99 respectively), six express pizzas ($6.99 and $7.99), pastas, Italian classics, paninis, wraps, and burgers. Dinner has all the requisite Italian dishes, from lasagna and chicken cacciatore to pork and chicken saltimbocca and a spumoni ice cream dish that's great for sharing.
Address: 6060 Renaissance Pl.
Category: Business casual.
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Reservations are accepted.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Average Price: $$-$$$
Credit Cards: AE, Dis, MC, V.
Web site: lascolaitaliangrill.com
(Note: Some prices are lower online than in the restaurant.
House salads are a good size, have varied greens, white cheese crumbles (and may I recommend Mama LaScola's White Balsamic House Dressing, which can be purchased by the bottle).
I had more gustatory hits than misses.
The eggplant parmigiana ($8.99 lunch/11.99 dinner) is terrific. Three long slabs of perfectly cooked eggplant are lightly breaded, separated by ricotta cheese, layered, and crowned with just enough Parmesan, mozzarella, and homemade marinara sauce. At lunch, it came with a serving of spaghetti.
Pecan encrusted chicken (9.99 lunch/$17.99 dinner), tender and delectable, had a cream brandy sauce; the finely crushed pecan was mixed with polenta. Julienned summer vegetables were sauteed, but someone in the kitchen has a) an asbestos tongue and/or b) a heavy hand with cayenne or some other heat-generating pepper (more to come).
Chicken salad wrap ($7.99) is a delicious homemade mix with grapes and tomatoes. Accompanying fries were good and the catsup (that's what the server called it) was thick enough to be the back-up marinara.
Both soups are excellent: tomato bisque is richly creamed, and vegetable minestrone is packed with fresh veggies. (Caution: On one visit, the soup came with a piece of bread that, unless soaked in the broth, was rock hard and likely to precipitate a trip to the dentist.)
However, warm, delicious bread and a plate of herbed olive oil was served at dinner. There's also an extensive wine list.
An appetizer of chicken kabobs was delicious, particularly the tomato slices and greens that were drenched with balsamic vinegar. Melted asiago cheese on the chicken chunks added nothing.
Caprese salmon ($21.99) was grilled, topped with those intense balsamic tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese (our server said the mozzarella is made here). Wild mushroom risotto, nicely seasoned, was a soft comfort food, and it came with a side of spaghetti.
Chicken marsala ($15.99) had a passel of mushrooms, but was short on the sauce and the poultry was a bit tough.
Scoring in the lowest percentiles (Yale is not in its future) was a chef's special seconded by our server: a 12-ounce New York strip steak ($25.99). Let me just mention that in this week's 90-degree weather, I did not don my down-filled jacket, wool cap, Thinsulate gloves, nor my Sorel boots. That's analogous to this dinner. It was described as peppered, with gorgonzolo cheese, and a Cajun cream sauce. My instructions to the server: "Light pepper and creole sauce on the side." What came out of the kitchen was me, dressed for winter on a steamy day. A bit of blue cheese crumbles might have been an interesting enhancement, but this heavily veined, thickly applied cheese had overpowering bite. The Cajun sauce was not on the side but on the plate. The pepper, while burning the mouths of my taste-testing companions, merely made me glisten with sweat. Too much of several good things.
At a late lunch, we were one of only three tables; at an early weekend dinner we were among a handful but by 7 p.m. the place had a respectable bustle. I appreciated the skill of servers Jenie and Matt M. at lunch and dinner.
Note: Ask about vegetarian and gluten free options.
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